Sunday, November 30, 2008

OOPS! I Did It Again...

I couldn't help myself, y'all! (Can you tell that I've been watching all the countdown programming to the big Britney interview/documentary on MTV tonight? Tee hee.)

Anyway, I was happy to not be in charge of a whole soup-to-nuts Thanksgiving meal this year, but the downside of not cooking is that you don't have any leftovers! So as I do every year, I broke down and decided to buy myself a small turkey and roast it this weekend that so I could have sandwiches and my favorite turkey and wild rice soup (recipe follows). The problem is, I made three separate trips to the store, and the smallest I could find was 17 pounds! YIKES! But I figure I can always freeze some and share with my neighbor who's on his own, too. The good thing about not being on a specific turkey-cooking timeline is that you have the luxury of being able to try something more involved. I have brined my turkey before, but this year, I followed the methodology of the man-who-should-have-been-my-husband, Alton Brown. And I must say, that man knows how to romance a bird! It took a couple of days, but it was well worth it.

First of all, after thawing in the fridge for two days, my turkey was still rock hard! So I took a tip from AB and put it in a big bucket filled with cold water, and instead of changing the water every half hour, I left the tap running in the bucket just a trickle, and the convection that the running water creates speeds thawing. It takes about 30 minutes per pound, which sure beats four days in the fridge! In the last few hours of thawing, I boiled the brine and let it cool on the (36-degree) porch. And then that night before bed, I dumped Old Tom into the bucket of cooled brine and iced water, and left him to soak on the porch until morning. The next day, still following AB's method, I cranked the oven up to 500 degrees and roasted that sucker for half an hour, then turned the oven down to 350 for about another 2 1/2 hours, and he was done. It takes a while to be sure, but mostly it's passive time, and it really does yield the juiciest, most flavorful bird. (I don't know why the picture above looks more like ham than turkey. I assure you, it was cooked through and not PINK like that!)

Next, of course, I had to make some stuffing, as Thanksgiving is the STUFFING holiday! In fact, I need the stuffing more than I need the turkey! I prefer a fairly straightforward sausage, celery, onion and sage affair, baked outside the turkey so that it gets crispy around the edges. Yum! That was all I was planning on making just for myself, but those pan drippings taunted me into make some delicious gravy with merlot. And then what was I going to put that gravy on? My turkey was so moist, it didn't need gravy. So naturally, I had to make some mashed potatoes, too. Thanksgiving is one of the few times a year that I can be compelled to make real mashed potatoes, and man, were they good! I cooked the potatoes in the extra turkey stock, then I found a knob of cream cheese (maybe 3-4 T) in the door of the fridge and threw that in there along with some butter and evaporated milk and just a dash of granulated garlic, and salt and pepper, of course. Outstanding!

Finally, like everyone else, I could walk around all weekend, displaying the pronounced "food baby" distending my pants, then collapse into a tryptophan-laced coma. Good times, good times. And now...back to work tomorrow morning. God help me. Two more weeks. And when it's over, then I will be truly thankful!

Turkey Wild Rice Soup
(Source: Taste of Home Magazine)

1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken or turkey broth
2 cups cooked wild rice
2 cups half-and-half or cream
2 cups diced cooked turkey
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a large kettle or Dutch oven, saute onion, celery and carrots in butter until onion is transparent. Reduce heat. Blend in flour and cook until bubbly. Gradually add broth, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil; boil for one minute. Reduce heat; add wild rice, cream, turkey, parsley, salt and pepper; simmer for 20 minutes. Yield: 10-12 servings (about three quarts).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hope you had a...HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I trust everyone had a nice Turkey Day? I sure did. With Cyd gone (sniff), I was relieved of kitchen duties at home. Instead, my sweet friend, June, invited me over to share the holiday with her family, including hubby, Tom, and the newlyweds--her daughter, Dove, and her new husband, Trevor. Eventually, we also coerced our other dear friend and trivia teammate, Vicky, into joining us, too. It was all perfectly lovely. With that many hands, light work was made of the cooking, and we had a most excellent feast! For appetizers, as we were hanging out in the kitchen and preparing dinner, we had a homemade pickle medley--carrots, dilly beans, and dill pickles--that I brought (to me, Thanksgiving will always be a pickle holiday!). Then we had June's famous pumpkin soup with cranberry-apple relish (a la Rachael Ray).

I, too, was inspired by a Food Network personality, Mr. Bobby Flay, to make the most faaaabulous (though ridiculously time-consuming and quite expensive) grilled portobello mushrooms with wild rice-almond pilaf stuffing and this amazing piquillo pepper vinaigrette. I made the wild rice filling and the flaming-orange vinaigrette at home the day before, and all I had to do was grill the portobellos on June's very cool indoor charcoal grill and then assemble. Really yummy! If nothing else, you should at least make the vinaigrette which would be great as a regular salad dressing, perhaps something with Latin ingredients and topped with crispy tortilla strips (note to self).

Grilled Portobellos Filled with Wild Rice-Almond Pilaf and Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette
(Source: Bobby Flay,
Food Network)

8 medium-sized portobello caps
olive oil
salt and pepper
wild rice pilaf, recipe follows
piquillo pepper vinaigrette, recipe follows
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Heat grill to high. Brush both sides of mushrooms with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill caps until golden brown on both sides and just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Fill the caps with the wild rice pilaf, drizzle the piquillo vinaigrette and sprinkle tops with the toasted almonds.

Wild Rice Pilaf:
1 1/2 cups wild rice
3 cups chicken stock, plus 1/2 cup
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place wild rice in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Combine three cups of the stock and the water in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook until the grains open and are very soft, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain well.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the cooked wild rice, thyme, rosemary and remaining 1/2 cup of stock and season with salt and pepper and cook until heated through and flavors combine, 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and fold in the parsley.

Piquillo Pepper Vinaigrette:
5 piquillo peppers, chopped
1/2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
8 cloves roasted garlic, peeled
1/4 cup aged sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil

Combine peppers, onion, garlic, vinegar, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and blend until emulsified.

For the main meal, we had roasted turkey, of course, mashed baby Yukon Golds with gravy, stuffing AND dressing, homemade cranberry-orange sauce, baked squash with apples and walnuts that Vicky brought, mashed sweet potatoes with brown sugar, steamed asparagus, and some really terrific rolls that Dove made from the classic Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (you know, the red-and-white plaid one that you probably also have on your shelf). The rolls were crispy on the outside (from being brushed with melted butter before baking), tender on the inside, and slightly sweet. Dove assures me that the dough makes an excellent base for sweet rolls, too--and I believe her.

Dove's Dinner Rolls (aka Basic Roll Dough)
(Source: Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)
Makes 2 to 3 dozen rolls

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided use
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg

In mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and the yeast. Heat milk, sugar, shortening, and salt together just until warm (115-120 degrees), stirring constantly until shortening almost melts. Add to dry mixture; add egg. Beat at low speed of electric mixer for 1/2 minute, scraping bowl. Beat three minutes at high speed. By hand, stir in remaining flour to make a soft dough. Shape into ball.

Place in lightly greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down; turn out on floured surface. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Shape into desired rolls (Dove prefers the classic cloverleaf*). Place on greased baking sheets or in greased muffin pans. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake in hot oven (400 degrees F) for 10 to 12 minutes.

*Cloverleaf Rolls:
Place three one-inch balls of dough in each greased muffin pan (fill pan half full). Brush balls with melted butter or margarine.

After dinner, we shared a toast with a far-too-drinkable cranberry cocktail that June whipped up (champagne and cranberry juice in a flute garnished with frozen cranberries and a slice of clementine--very festive!), before retiring to the den for a rousing game of Cranium and then Apples to Apples while our meal settled. When we were finally ready for dessert, we had several delicious choices. June made a decadent three-layer Black Forest cake, and also a traditional cherry pie (the Konda-Foleys are a cherry-loving people). And I made a variation of my famous pecan pie that almost killed me...literally. You see, I broke the cardinal rule on major holidays: NEVER experiment with a new recipe! The filling was very good, but I about burned down the house making the crust!

I decided to try the crust recipe that was featured in the New York Times a couple of years ago, but some fuzzy math when doubling the recipe for two pies caused me to add too much butter to the dough. And knew it. I knew it looking in the food processor. I knew it when I was rolling it out. And I definitely knew it when the kitchen started to fill with smoke! You see, the butter was leaking out and burning on the bottom of the oven. So I changed the aluminum foil that I line the oven with twice and thought that I had dealt with the problem. But then the kitchen began to fill with an even thicker black smoke, and when I opened the door, the bottom of the oven was in FLAMES! (Does this sound familiar?) So I grabbed some baking soda and put it out, somehow miraculously missing the pies. But it looked like it was still burning (too much) down below. So I turned off the oven for a few minutes just to be safe. Everything seemed to be ok, and I got the oven cleaned out. Then I turned it back on and put the pies back in to finish baking, this time on lined cookie sheets to catch any more leaks.

The problem was, of course, that the half-baked crusts had been sitting on the counter, melting. (The butter in pie crust needs to be cold so that it creates steam when it hits the hot oven and those steam puffs create the flaky layers that you want.) So the final outcome was two beautiful pecan pies with a delicious filling but a crunchy, cracker-type crust. BOO HISS! It was 1:00am by the time I finished, and I was practically in tears. I put a Pillsbury crust in the fridge to thaw, and went to bed, resolved to make a third pie in the morning. But when I got up, I tried a sliver of one pie, and even with the weird crust, it was darn tasty. So I decided just to swallow my pride, and take the substandard pie. After all, June doesn't even like pecan pie, so she wouldn't be having any, plus I knew there would be other desserts from which to choose. Yet everyone but June tried the pecan pie, and strangely, no one seems disturbed by the disastrous crust, as evidenced by the fact that we ate half of it in one sitting! Oh, and did I mention that I will be teaching a pie-making class for Continuing Education in the spring semester? Tee-hee. Oh will make a good story for the students, assuming there's anyone foolhardy enough to sign up after this debacle!

Burning Down the House Pecan Pie (Thanksgiving 2008)
(kind of a combo of my favorite recipe and Anna's at
Cookie Madness)

one unbaked pie crust (one with the proper proper proportion of fat to flour, PLEASE!)

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup Grade B maple syrup
1 cup corn syrup (half light and half dark, or brown sugar flavor)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups pecans, whole

Mix thoroughly all ingredients except the butter and nuts. In a dry skillet, toast the pecans over medium heat for about two minutes, then add the butter and "stir-fry" the nuts for another 2-3 minutes until the butter has browned and the nuts start to color. Fold the buttered pecans gently into the sugar mixture so as not to break them up. Pour filling into a pie pan lined with the unbaked crust. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until the filling has set (is no longer wobbly). Cool thoroughly before serving, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pre-Holiday Product Placements

I know, I know! Where have I been lately? Well, the answer, of course, is under a veritable mountain of ungraded papers, speeches, and final exams! Oh, and at the premiere of Twilight, naturally! ;-) But as of 21 minutes ago, I am FREE for FIVE WHOLE GLORIOUS DAYS! WHOO-HOO! That means I'll actually have some time to cook and blog about it...that is, if I can be roused from the coma in which I am sure to sink. In the meantime, it's been awhile since I've shared products that I enjoy, and some of these might make your holidays a bit brighter.

Let's begin with a quick cook idea, shall we? It should be said that I enjoy fish, but I don't eat it as much as I should because it seems to have become very expensive of late. But I was cruising the aisles of the Sam's Club recently (we like to add the definite article before stores and roads here in the North Country...roll with it), and I spied a frozen package of salmon trout for five bucks! Salmon trout sounds akin to imitation "krab," but it's a real thing. In fact, my next-door neighbor in Salt Lake City used to hook me up with some (har, har...hook me up indeed!) every time he went fishing, and I'd always have a ton in the freezer. It is trout, but it's orange-fleshed and meaty like salmon. In short, it's darn good eats. And five dollars at the Sam's Club gets you four medium-sized fillets--that's four meals for the price of one fast-food hamburger! The best part is, it cooks up in a jiffy, which is perfect for these harried, holiday times. I like to coat mine with some of Paul Prudhomme's Salmon Magic (hey! that was a bonus product placement!) and saute it in butter. To gild the lily, I drizzle on some homemade apple-maple-mustard sauce, and serve it with steamed rice and buttered baby lima beans (now shush about the lima beans--I love them!). Delish!

Okay, onto commercial product placement #2. The holidays call for a lot of snacking--dipping and dunking crackers into all kinds of tasty dips and spreads. And though these have been out for awhile, I only just recently bought a box to try...and suddenly, I'm on my fourth box! Tee hee. Have you folks tried the new(-ish) Flipsides crackers from Town House? Those evilly genius Keebler elves have wrought a delectable miracle by fusing the buttery richness of a Town House cracker with the salty crunch of a pretzel. HOW HAVE WE LIVED THIS LONG WITHOUT THESE THINGS?? Seriously, you have to try them. In fact, I have a vision for what I'm going to do with them next, though I can't tell anyone for the shame of it. I'll simply provide a link without further comment and let you make your own decisions.

I have saved the best and most seasonally-appropriate item for last. I was at the Super Wal-Mart last week and was stopped dead in my tracks by an end-cap full of THESE babies*. Don't THINK that I didn't throw two packages into my cart with the utmost haste! (Stop judging....I gave one to my officemate, Lee Ann.) The Limited Edition Oreos with Old-Fashioned Candy Cane Creme are a blatant rip-off of Trader Joe's Candy Cane Jo-Jo's that I adore. But I am so happy that Nabisco is ripping them off, because now that Grady is finished with his championship, I have no cause to be near a Trader Joe's over Thanksgiving weekend as I usually am, so there will be no holiday treats from Trader Joe's this year (sniff).

How do the Oreos compare to the Jo Jo's, you ask? Well, no one makes a better dark chocolate cookie than Oreo, so they win there, but I have to say that the Jo Jo filling is definitely better. Still, these special holiday Oreos are darn good, and I can think of so many uses for them. They would be yummy (and pretty!) covered in white or dark chocolate and decorated with festive sprinkles for gift-giving. Likewise, they would make terrific minty Oreo truffles. And I think ice cream pie nirvana could be reached with a crust fashioned from these cookies, filled with Breyer's mint chocolate chip, and topped with homemade fudge sauce (note to self: buy Breyer's!). Or better yet, one might make their own homemade ice cream with a peppermint base and chunks of these cookies swirled in! Moreover, how about making a minty version of those terrific cookies-and-cream cupcakes? If none of these ideas float your boat, you could always eat them straight from the package...but leave a few for Santa so you don't get coal in your stocking! ;-)

*I forgot to take a picture of the Candy Cane Oreos that I bought, so I "borrowed" a picture from a blog called Gigi Reviews. So photo credit goes to Gigi!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lazy Sunday baking...

I suppose I should be doing exciting things on the weekend, having excellent adventures north of the border, perhaps, especially as the exchange rate is FINALLY back in our favor! But work has been kicking my butt lately. Teaching seven classes is hard enough, but we're getting to that latter part of the semester when all the big projects are due, plus every "free" minute over the last couple of weeks has been spent advising students for spring semester. Whew! At the end of a long, exhausting week, I can usually muster up enough energy to go out on Friday night, whether it's to a concert or play or at least out to dinner with my friends. But once I get home, I have been putting myself on lockdown--under house arrest, if you will--until work starts again on Monday morning. I manage to do some necessary chores around the house, of course, but mostly, I just spend quality time with the critters, watch some flicks or read, catch up on email and blogging, and SLEEP! Part of it has to do with the weather. We had a cold snap for a few days, but lately, it's been warmer, yet blustery and rainy--perfect weather to just stay in bed under your cozy covers! But on Sunday, I start to get that itch to bake something. So after I get up and let the dogs out and get them fed, I try to get a baking project going before I become comatose again in the afternoon. ;-)

Last weekend, I decided to make some bread from King Arthur's website that looked really yummy. They called it a whole-grain ciabatta, but it's really not like a traditional ciabatta. It doesn't have that crackly-crisp, chewy crust, nor the characteristic open structure with large holes. But it does make two slipper-shaped loaves of grainy goodness. And I know it's a yeast bread--and an overnight recipe to boot--but it's really so easy, just lots of passive fermenting and rise time. These would be perfect loaves for your Thanksgiving table, and you would really wow your friends and family with delicious, homemade bread! I swapped out a half cup of my sourdough starter that I refreshed the night before for their starter, and I used all bread flour which necessitated an extra quarter cup of water to hydrate the dough properly, but I was rewarded with an excellent sourdough harvest grains faux ciabatta! (But I will cite the original recipe below, just in case you don't have any sourdough starter bubbling away in your fridge--then again, why don't you??)

Harvest Grains Ciabatta
(Source: King Arthur Flour)

Overnight starter:
1 cup white whole wheat flour (when I make this again, I will use regular whole wheat here)
1/2 cup cool water
pinch of instant yeast

all of the starter (above)
2 cups all-purpose flour (or bread flour, if you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup lukewarm water (up to one cup if using bread flour)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup King Arthur Harvest Grains Blend (or any whole-grained porridge would substitute)

1) Combine the starter ingredients and stir until cohesive. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight, or for up to about 15 hours. The mixture will be bubbly.
2) Combine the starter with all of the dough ingredients except the Harvest Grains Blend, and mix and knead to make a very smooth, soft, very sticky dough. Using a stand mixer equipped with the flat beater paddle (I used the dough hook to no ill effect), knead for 7 minutes; the dough may or may not clear the sides of the bowl. Or prepare dough in the bread machine set on the dough cycle.
3) Once the dough is kneaded, add the Harvest Grains Blend, mixing just until it's well distributed. If you're using a bread machine, add the grains blend at the beep. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, add and knead for about 30 seconds, just to combine.
4) Place the dough in a lightly greased rising container (or leave it in your bread machine), and allow it to rise for 90 minutes, until it's doubled in size. If it's in the bread machine, remove the dough at the end of the dough cycle.
5) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it in half.
6) Shape each half into a 10" log.
7) Place the logs on a large, lightly greased (or parchment or Silpat-lined) baking sheet, leaving about 5" between them.
8) Cover and let rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until very puffy. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
9) Spray the loaves with lukewarm water, and place them in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they're golden brown.
10) Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Ok, if you just can't be put upon to make yeast bread, I have another great Thanksgiving idea for you, and this one couldn't get much easier, and everyone will love it! Years ago, I clipped a recipe off the back of a Duncan Hines cake mix and fell in love with it. But I haven't made it in a long, long time, until I saw the Neely's resurrect it on the Food Network recently, and I was reminded of what a great recipe it is. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the Sock-It-To-Me Cake! It's basically a pound cake with a pecan-cinnamon streusel filling that you fashion from a Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Golden Cake mix. If you can make a boxed cake mix, you can make this. And if you make it in a bundt pan and glaze it decoratively, your Thanksgiving guests will be duly impressed.

Mama Neely's Sock-It-to-Me Cake
Food Network)

2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans

(I toasted the pecans and added a pinch of salt)

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (I cut this to one cup)
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice (if you don't like the idea of lemon, just use milk and a splash of vanilla)

1 package golden cake mix (not just yellow cake mix!)
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For streusel filling, combine all ingredients and set aside. Blend glaze ingredients and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine cake mix, eggs, sour cream, oil, water, sugar and flour in a large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes with electric mixer. Pour 1/2 of batter into a greased 13 by 9-inch pan (I used a bundt pan to make it look fancier!). Sprinkle streusel filling on top and swirl the filling (careful not to over-swirl like I always do!). Spoon remaining batter evenly over filling. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (this took 45-50 minutes in the bundt pan). Cool in pan 25 minutes then invert onto a serving plate. Cool completely.

Combine sugar, milk and lemon juice in bowl. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle over cake.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm in a cheesecake state of mind...

It all started at the end of last month with my beloved friend June's birthday. Hers is just two days after mine, and we both suffered through childhood, too often celebrated with Halloween-themed cakes. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE Halloween! But one wishes a proper birthday cake, and one NEVER wishes BLACK icing! (Shudder.) In fact, I don't want frosting at all. I don't even need cake. Sometime in my adult years--perhaps by my late twenties--I made it known that I would prefer cheesecake for my special birthday dessert.

Ah, cheesecake. I can't even bring myself to wax rhapsodic about it. My love is too profound. As Claudio says in my favorite Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing: "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy if I could say how much." For June's birthday cheesecake, I had a recipe that I saved for nearly a year to make for her! It came from--get this--AOL's horoscope page. HA! This was said to be the perfect dessert for Scorpios. I don't know about that, as I'm a Scorpio, too, and I'm more of a vanilla girl than chocolate. But for June, this dessert was ideal.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Morello Cherry Demi-Glaze. Isn't the name hypnotic? The recipe, though, seemed strangely flawed. To begin with, the crust only calls for 1/4 cup of crumbs. That would barely cover one part of the bottom of the pan! Also, the filling calls for 3/4 pound cream cheese, but that's only one and a half packages. I've never seen a cheesecake recipe that calls for fewer than three or even four 8-oz. packages. Plus, I was going to be making this in a nine-inch spring form pan, not eight, so I was sure that I would lack filling. Therefore, I made a few changes, as is my way, but it turned out really well--incredibly dense and chocolately, not too sweet, with the sour cherry topping as the perfect tangy complement. I'm afraid that I gave the leftovers to the birthday girl, so I only had part of my piece to photograph. But doesn't it look DELISH? And, I assure you, it was. Oh yes, it was.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Morello Cherry Demi-Glaze
(Source: adapted from
Sabra Ricci)

1 1/4 cups Oreo cookie crumbs (18, give or take)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine crumbs, butter and salt. Stir until combined. Spoon the crumb mixture into an 9-inch spring-form pan. Using fingertips, press evenly onto the pan bottom and an inch up the sides. Bake 10-12 minutes until the crust hardens slightly. Set aside to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 300ºF. Place a pan filled with hot water on the bottom oven rack.

8 ounces dark chocolate pieces
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup brewed espresso or strong coffee
1 pound (2 8-oz. packages) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy-bottomed pot (or in the microwave at 30-second intervals), melt chocolate with coffee over low heat, stirring often, until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed one minute. Scrape down the sides and add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium for 30 seconds and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the vanilla. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the bowl, scrape down the sides once more and beat on medium speed one minute.

Pour the batter into the prepared crust. Bake 60 to 65 minutes or until the internal temperature is 170ºF. Turn off the oven; let cake stand in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Cherry Glaze:
1 pound Morello cherries (I used one 24-oz. jar of Trader Joe's morellos, drained, with juice reserved)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons reserved cherry juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

In heavy saucepan, combine the cherries and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced, approximately 20 minutes.

Add the cornstarch slurry and simmer until thickened and glossy, about three minutes. Stir in the almond extract and remove from heat. Let cool.

Refrigerate cheesecake overnight. Cut into 12 slices, topping each slice with one tablespoon cherry sauce just before serving.

So that was June's cheesecake. But what about one for ME? The second in my brief cheesecake series began with some weird crackers that I bought but did not like. At the co-op in town, I had purchased a box of something called Walker's Fine Oatcakes--you know, Walker's, the Scottish shortbread company? Well, these looked a little like Wheatolo digestive biscuits, which I love, but these oatcakes were NOT lovable. They had the texture and, it must be said, a similar flavor to cheap pressboard. But they were expensive, and I am too frugal to throw away food before first trying to come up with a palatable use for it. I decided that, mixed with some nuts, butter, and sugar, the oatcakes might make an interesting base for a cheesecake. But what kind of cheesecake? I remembered something I recently saw on a lovely blog called La Tartine Gourmande, a recipe for a tarte au fromage blanc with lemon and poppyseeds. Brilliant!

I took some liberties with the recipe, of course. As usual, I needed to increase the filling for my nine-inch pan. And I eschewed a pastry crust in favor of my experimental oat nut base. By the bye, the oatcakes are wheat-free, so this would be a great swap out for those on gluten-free diets, and if you subbed Splenda for the sugar, it would be low-carb, too, as the oatcakes are also sugar-free (which helps to explain their appalling lack of flavor on their own). Next, I decided to use some farmer's cheese which, to my surprise, I found at the Price Chopper in little old Plattsburgh. I wanted to use the farmer's cheese because it's quite similar to French fromage blanc and would give the cheesecake a more authentic texture and flavor, not unlike a fine ricotta. But as I had no access to sheep's milk yogurt, I just went with vanilla Yoplait. The sheep's milk yogurt would, I'm sure, give it a delicious tang if you can find some. As a bonus, both the farmer's cheese and the yogurt I used were low-fat, and I reduced the amount of mascarpone in the original recipe. So I think this cheesecake is a little healthier than one made with all cream cheese. Finally, I was almost done with the filling and ready to bake the cheesecake when I realized that I was out of poppyseeds. UGH! So I added extra lemon zest and even a bit of lemon oil and let it just be a very lemony cheesecake. And honestly, it was perfection! The poppyseeds would be lovely if you have them, but they are not absolutely necessary. In any case, this one is a must-try!

French-Style Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake
(Source: adapted from
La Tartine Gourmande)

3/4 cup oatcakes* (5 small), crushed
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped (or nut of your choice)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt

3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound farmer's cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 cup vanilla yogurt
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
zest of 2 lemons
few drops of lemon oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the oatcake crumbs, chopped pecans, melted butter, sugar and salt, and press into the bottom and an inch up the sides of an eight-inch spring form pan. Bake for about ten minutes or until just starting to turn a pale brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until the filling is prepared.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip them to firm peaks with a pinch of salt. Add one teaspoon sugar almost at the end, to make them firmer. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the farmer's cheese, mascarpone, yogurt, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and lemon oil. Blend until as smooth as you can get it. Empty mixture into a bowl and gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour this batter on top of the oat nut crust and level the top. Bake for about one hour. Check regularly. When the filling is set and the cheesecake has browned around the edges, turn the oven off, and crack the door with a wooden spoon. Let cool completely in the oven, then chill for several hours in the fridge. Dust the top with powdered sugar (which will help camouflage cracks). Serve each slice of cheesecake with a generous dollop of sour cream or, preferably, creme fraiche.

*Graham crackers or Wheatolo biscuits would work fine here, I'm sure. But then you may want to reduce, or even omit, the sugar. Taste the crumb mixture, then decide.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A great day to be an American....

Isn't this the most AMAZING day? I am all keyed up and only got about four hours of sleep last night. After following this election passionately for two years, taking in at least three hours of politics every day (NPR in the morning on the way to work, Rachel Maddow and Daily Show/Colbert Report at night at a bare minimum, plus a whole host of political websites and blogs), I can hardly believe that election day is upon us. And this is a voting day like no other. There is a palpable excitement that you can feel everywhere you go--an energy, a new hope--that I haven't sensed since '92, and even that paled in comparison to this unprecented and historic day. When I came out of my voting booth this morning, my eyes were blurred with tears, and the poll workers seemed worried about me. When I found my voice, I just choked out, "It's just such an exciting day!" They laughed and nodded in agreement, relieved that emergency services weren't going to have to be called on my behalf. ;-)

I dare not speak my wish aloud nor type it here until the polls are closed and the counts are official (please, God, don't let it be another litigious squeaker--save us from the dangling chads and Supreme Court involvement!). But soon I will repair to my friends Tom and June's house, where I go to watch returns for every major election. These parties always start off with everyone in a good mood, in high, anticipatory spirits. But in 2000 and 2004, they ended very somberly, with fellow Democrats skulking away in silence to nurse their emotional wounds at home. We did finally manage to pop the champagne in 2006's midterm elections, but I am hoping that that celebration will be greatly dwarfed (oxymoron there?) by tonight's party--she says with fingers crossed, head bowed in prayer.

Instead of going out to dinner and playing trivia tonight, as is our custom on Tuesdays, we will be enjoying a potluck as we assume the watchful position on Tom and June's couch. For my contribution, I have prepared a huge crockpot full of...wait for it...AFRICAN BLESSING SOUP! It is a delicious recipe for a rich, spicy chicken soup with sweet potatoes and parsnips that I found years ago and prepared for a Black History Month event. It would also be perfect for Kwanzaa and, I believe, extremely appropriate for tonight's gathering!

African Blessing Soup
(Source: Rena Coyle via

1 chicken (3–4 pounds)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 lemon, halved
1 orange, quartered
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 medium sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and thinly sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

To marinate chicken: Rinse chicken under cool running water. Pat dry and set it in a non- corrosive pan. On a cutting board, finely chop garlic. Sprinkle chopped garlic with salt, and using the flat side of a knife, mold salt and garlic into a paste. Rub the outside of the chicken with the salt-garlic paste. Squeeze lemons and oranges over the chicken and tuck the rinds inside the cavity. Season with pepper and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy roasting pan. Add onions, reduce heat, and cook for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Add sweet potatoes and parsnips; cook for 3 minutes. Mix in chicken broth, cumin seed, cinnamon, and red-pepper flakes. Bring broth to a boil and add chicken, complete with drippings. Return broth to a simmer. Cover and place in an oven; cook for 50 minutes. 3. Remove chicken from pan. Slice chunks of meat from chicken and add to soup. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve in individual bowls. Place leftover chicken and broth in a bowl in the refrigerator to serve the next day.

In addition to the soup, I did one last post-mortem sweep of my garden after last week's first snowfall and managed to harvest about a pound of tomatillos, along with some Green Zebra and yellow plum tomatoes, and a few hot peppers. I roasted these things along with some garlic cloves and onion until slightly charred about the edges. Then I cooled the roasted veggies, blended them with some fresh lime juice, salt, a couple of avocados and some fresh parsley, and made a very fine salsa verde/guacamole type of deal that we will enjoy with some Trader Joe's veggie tortilla chips tonight. I didn't use it in my salsa verde, but I give you, THE LAST TOMATO, that somehow survived the freeze last week.

Finally, I must show you the piece de resistance for this evening's election returns party, made by our most excellent hostess, June. She just emailed me this picture (I have her photographing food now--my work is done).

YES WE CAN! (And I think we just did!)

I leave you with the inspirational lyrics that have been running through my head for the past couple of days as a benediction:

I KNOW WHERE I'VE BEEN--from "Hairspray" (sung in my head by the venerable Queen Latifah)

There's a light in the darkness
Though the night is black as my skin
There's a light burning bright, showing me the way
But I know where I've been

There's a cry in the distance
It's a voice that comes from deep within
There's a cry asking why
I pray the answer's up ahead
'Cause I know where I've been

There's a road we've been travelin'
lost so many on the way
But the riches will be plenty
Worth the price we had to pay

There's a dream in the future
There's a struggle that we have yet to win
And there's pride in my heart
'Cause I know where I'm going
And I know where I've been

There's a road we must travel
There's a promise we must make
'Cause the riches will be plenty
Worth the risk and chances that we take

There's a dream in the future
There's a struggle we have yet to win
Use that pride in our hearts
To lift us up until tomorrow
'Cause just to sit still would be a sin

I know it, I know it, I know where I'm going
And Lord knows I know where I've been

Oh! When we win,
I'll give thanks to my God
'Cause I know where I've been